Cannabis courses focusing on science and business sprout up in Ontario


It seems fitting that the day after Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg launched Houseplant, a recreational cannabis company “focused on product and quality, education and guidance” as per its press release, I’d be talking to several educators and researchers about how cannabis has infiltrated the classroom curriculum. 

With seemingly everyone rushing headfirst into the business of cannabis, post-legalization, Ontario colleges and universities are continually rolling out new offerings, including McMaster University’s Science of Cannabis and George Brown College’s Cannabis Business Fundamentals. 

While most cannabis-related courses and programs (see listing, page 18) are focused on business or agriculture, McMaster is filling a void with a program devoted to evidence-based research and science. 

The three-course certificate will lean heavily on work happening in the Hamilton-based school. Active researchers from both the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research and the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research are teaching the course, and future iterations will reflect new evidence and findings in areas such as cannabis’s effects on chronic pain, and the benefits and harms of long-term use. 

James MacKillop, director of the Peter Boris and the Michael G. DeGroote centres, helped develop the curriculum, which he hopes will dispel myths about the plant. 

“There is a lot of lore about cannabis, especially around health applications, so this is intended to give students the most comprehensive sense of what the evidence does tell us,” he says.

Misconceptions abound, including whether cannabis can be used to alleviate mental health conditions.

“We know that many people report using medical cannabis to manage anxiety, depression or other psychiatric disorders,” he says, “but there are virtually no clinical trials that directly address whether or not cannabis is helpful for those conditions.”

The first course, starting in May, looks at the fundamentals of cannabis science and focuses on the nature of the plant, different species and psychoactive and medicinal properties. MacKillop says there will be a “fairly sizable” focus on the endocannabinoids system – the biological architecture the plant interacts with and the resulting effects. 

The other two courses explore risk and harms associated with weed, like psychosis and addiction, as well as health benefits. 

Interest has been so high for the 60-student-capacity course that the school may open another section.

MacKillop says most students will likely be undergraduates studying health sciences or psychology, though the school is also targeting health professionals, physicians, psychologists, social workers and first responders. 

“Whether [learners] are actively using cannabis medically or seeing patients who might be authorized to access cannabis, [the students] will have the knowledge base they need to make sure that they’re making recommendations that are in the patient’s best interest,” he says. 

Those already working in the cannabis industry, like Philippe Lucas, VP of patient research and access at Nanaimo-based medical marijuana producer Tilray, hope formal training around cannabis research will help increase the number of skilled employees working in labs.Lucas says many licensed producers are hiring people to develop their extract techniques. 

“When we speak to physicians today, very few have been exposed through their medical school training to the endocannabinoid system, which is one of the key systems amongst all mammals,” says Lucas. “Better understanding will lead to greater opportunities to shine a light into the dark corners of knowledge around medical cannabis and, ultimately, around the impacts of recreational use as well.”

Now that cannabis is legalized, there is a need for traditional scientific academic research to be undertaken not only on the plant but around new methods of use and technologies in terms of extracts and analytics, he adds. 

Those who are more business-oriented might want to sign up for George Brown’s continuing education course Cannabis Business Fundamentals, which launched last fall.

According to instructor Nick Pateras, the in-class one-weekend course helps people go “from zero to 10” on industry regulations and legislation.

“We don’t beat around the bush. I delve right into how to interpret [the legalities],” says Pateras, VP of strategy at cannabis media and tech company Lift & Co.

Pateras says some program graduates are now in the process of setting up their own cannabis businesses or have joined existing businesses. The seventh and final edition of the course takes place from April 6 to 7. 

While Lucas is encouraged by these educational opportunities, the next step he wants to see is more government funding for research. 

“We don’t want to have a bunch of people go through these programs and then be unable to find funding for their research,” he says. “Ultimately this is a rapidly expanding industry and I would encourage young academics to consider it as one of their academic directions. I hope to see a lot of smart people coming into this industry.”

Where to study cannabis

Academy of Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences (North York) Cannabis-management, quality and laboratory certificate program quality assurance for cannabis certificate program: $300-$2,000/course.

Collège Boréal (Sudbury) Plant production & facility management: $1,694/course.

Conestoga College (Kitchener) The legalization of cannabis in Canada: $432.06/course.

Durham College (Oshawa) Cannabis industry specialization $451.94/course.

Fanshawe College (London, St. Thomas) The legalization of cannabis in Canada: $411.98 Growing cannabis for beginners: $96.50-$104.50 medicinal cannabis: $96.50.

Fleming College (Peterborough) The Legalization of cannabis in Canada: $396.76/course.

George Brown College Continuing Education (Toronto) Cannabis business fundamentals: $499. coned.

Loyalist College (Belleville) Cannabis applied science: $4,322.54/two semesters.

McMaster University (Hamilton) Fundamentals of cannabis science. $849.36/first course.

Niagara College (Niagara-on-the-Lake) Commercial cannabis production $11,608.32/program.

Ryerson University: The Chang School (Toronto) The business of cannabis: $933.42.




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